Thursday, November 26, 2020

The Ugly Duckling

The Ugly Duckling [Hans Christian Andersen]

The Ugly Duckling [Hans Christian Andersen]

In the lovely country it was summer-time. The cornfields were ripe. The oats were green. The hay stood in its tall stacks, and the storks Walked about on their long red legs.

Yes, it was a fair, fair country. In the midst of all this beauty and sunshine there stood an old farm with deep canals around it. Near the water was a high wall with bushes growing tall; it was like a deep wood among those bushes and there, upon her nest, sat a duck to hatch her young ones. '

Day after day she kept at her task and ere the little ones came she was very tired. She was lonely too for no one came to see her. The other ducks would rather swim on the canals than talk to her.

But at last one of the eggs cracked. How eagerly the duck now watched her nest! Another and an- other egg did the same.

"Peep! Peep!" cried each little duck as it put forth a soft, downy, yellow head.

And "What a big, big world!" they all exclaimed, for surely the nest was larger than the egg shell.

"Do you think that this is all the world?" asked the proud mother. "Why, this is not much! The world runs way up there across the garden. I have never been so far, but it is quite true for all that."

"Now are you all here?" she asked as she carefully looked about. "No. That large egg is still not hatched. How long is that to last, I wonder?"

But she sat down again.

"How goes it?" asked an old Duck who had heard the news about the new family and had waddled down to see for herself.

"This one egg lasts a very long time," replied the patient mother. "It will not burst. But just look at the little ducks! Are they not sweet? They all look exactly like their father, the dears! But he, the bad fellow, does not come to see me."

"Let me see the egg that will not burst," said the old Duck. "Ah, it is a turkey egg! I was once fooled that way. I had great trouble, for turkeys are afraid of the water. They will never venture on it. You had better leave that egg and go and teach your other children how to swim."

"I'll stay a little longer," answered the mother. "I have sat so long that a few more days now will not matter."

"Just as you please," said the old Duck coldly as she walked off.

At last the egg burst.

"Peep! Peep!" said the little one, and out it crept from the shell.

It was very ugly.

"It is not like the others!" wailed the mother. "Can it be a turkey chick? We will soon find out. It shall go into the water if I have to push it in!"

The next day was bright and fair. The mother duck went early to the pond with all her little ones, and it was indeed a pretty sight.

"Splash!" into the water she went.

''Quack! Quack!" she called. That meant ''Come! Come!" as every one of the little ducks knew and in they followed one after the other. The water closed over them — but what did they care? Their legs went as easily as could be. It was great sport!

And the ugly little duck was there too, swimming with the rest.

"It is not a turkey chick!" exulted the mother duck. "It is my very own child. And if you look at it the right way it is not very ugly. Come, my dears, I will take you to the barnyard and show you the great world. Now keep close to me. Some one might tread on you. And look out for cats!"

There was a hot battle going on in the barnyard. Two parties were fighting desperately for a fish's head, and in the end the cat got it all.

"That's the way of the world!" cried the mother duck, and she sharpened her beak. Ah! how she wanted the fish head!

''Use your legs!" she commanded her family. ''Hurry about and bow your heads to the old Duck over there. She's the grandest of them all. She has Spanish blood in her, and that is why she is so fat. And do you see that she has a red rag around her leg? That is something fine — the greatest thing a duck can have. It means that her owner does not want to lose her. Don't turn in your toes! A well-bred duck always turns them out like father and mother. Now bend your necks and say 'Rap!’”

And they did so; but the other ducks cried coldly:

''Were there not enough ducks here without all these? And look at that ugly one over there! We won't stand that!" and one flew up and bit the poor little gray thing in the neck!

"Oh, shame!" cried out the mother duck. "She is doing no harm!"

"But she's too large and queer," cried the duck who had bitten it, "and so we will tease her!"

Just then the old duck with the rag on her leg said slowly: "Those are pretty children that the mother has there, all but one; that one is a failure. I wish she could make it pretty like the rest."

"That I cannot do, my lady," said the poor mother. "She is not pretty but she is very sweet, and she swims just as well as the others. She may grow pretty," and she smoothed its feathers.

The Ugly Duckling [Hans Christian Andersen]

Well, your other children are graceful. Make yourself at home and the next fish head you see, take it. But do not eat it — you may bring it to me!"

Soon after they went home, and all along the way the ugly duckling was pushed and hurt and jeered.

That was the first day. And as time went on things steadily grew worse and worse.

Her own brothers and sisters were cruel to her and at every turn she was made to suffer. Even her mother wished that the ugly child was far away. As she grew big she flew over the fence, and the little birds were afraid of her. If she went into the barnyard the girl who fed the fowls kicked her with her foot.

 ''It is because I am so very ugly," cried the poor little thing in despair, and one day she flew away to the wild ducks who lived out on the wide moor. Here she lay sad and tired.

When the wild ducks saw her, they said, "What sort of a duck are you.?"

And then when the poor thing tried to make a bow as best she could, they only jeered at her effort to be polite.

''You are very ugly," they laughed, "but we do not mind if you do not marry into our family."

Marry! Poor little duckling, she had not thought of such a thing. She only wanted to find a home where she could rest and have a quiet drink from the river.

So she stayed two days. Then a pair of very saucy ganders came by. They were young and wanted to have a good time.

"You are so ugly that Ave like you," said they. "Will you come with us and be a bird that flies from place to place? Near here there are some lovely wild geese. We are quite sure that one of them would say 'Rap!' to you if you asked one to marry you."

 “Piff! Paff !" a shot rang out. One of the young ganders fell dead.

"Paff! Piff !" spoke another gun. And the second saucy young gander fell as the first.

A great hunt was going on. The water was red with blood. The ugly duckling had never been so frightened. She put her head under her wing, and when she had gathered enough courage to look out again, what do you think she saw?

A frightful great dog, with his tongue hanging far out!

He tried to snap at her, but she knew the land was no place for her. Into the water she went, and the dog ran on.

“I am so ugly," cried she, "that even the dog runs away!"

So she lay still at the water's edge, hidden by some over- hanging bushes. She listened intently as the shots grew further and further apart. Finally they ceased altogether. When she had assured herself that the hunt was really over, she climbed up the bank and walked sadly on. The sun sank lower and lower in the west. Another day was almost done. When it had dipped below the horizon and even the last of its beautiful afterglow had faded and night was indeed near the ugly duckling came to a poor hut. She saw that the one door stood partly open. With the night there had come a storm and as the wind was blowing wildly, the duckling crept into the hovel to find both shelter and rest.

Now in this poor hut there lived a woman with her cat and her hen. The cat she called Sonnie! He could arch his back, and he could purr, and he could make sparks fly from his eyes.

The hen had short legs but a long name. The woman called her Chick-a-biddy-short-shanks. And as she laid good eggs and many of them, the woman loved her as her own child.

Now when the cat and the hen saw the poor duckling the cat purred and the hen clucked.

The old woman could not see very well, and for a time she did not see the duck. When she did she was glad for, as she had no duck of her own, she thought it was quite a prize.

But the hen and the cat did not like to have anyone share their home, selfish creatures that they were, and were so cross that the duckling sat lonely enough in her corner.

One day she longed so to have a swim that she told the hen all about it.

"What a queer thought!" scoffed the hen. "If you had more to do you would not have time to be thinking of such silly things."

"But it is lovely to swim on the water," insisted the duckling. "It is fine to dive down to the bottom."

 "You must be crazy," replied the hen. "I am sure you are crazy. At any rate, you had better ask the cat about it. He is the wisest creature I know roundabout here. Ask him if he likes to swim on the water. Ask the old woman;' I do not think they would care to go diving down to the bottom of the water."

''You don't know what I mean!" cried the duck- ling in despair.

''No, we do not," answered the hen. "But who does, pray? You had better be thankful you have enough food and a warm home, and stop talking so silly."

"I think I will go away," at last the duckling thought, "away into the great wide world."

And she went. She soon found the water and swam and dived. Oh, it was good! But it was the same story— every bird and beast hurt her, or was afraid of her.

Then came the autumn. The leaves fell. The clouds hung gray and low. At last the snowflakes whirled through the chill air.

One day as the sun was setting there came a great flock of splendid birds out of the bushes. They were pure white with long necks; they were swans.

They gave a long, low cry, spread out their beautiful strong wings and flew away to warmer lands.

So high, so high they went! And the ugly duck- ling felt very queer as she watched them go. She turned round and round in the water, and then she too gave a long, low cry. It almost made her afraid, that cry she uttered.

She could not forget the lovely white birds, and she knew that soon she would see them no more.

She dived to the bottom of the river, and when she came up she was almost beside herself with grief. She knew not the name of the wonderful birds, nor where they had gone, but she did know that she loved them every one.

She did not envy them. She could not be like them. But oh! she loved them. Poor little ugly duckling!

The winter grew cold! The duckling had to swim around a great deal to keep the water from freezing in the river. But in spite of all her efforts each night the hole in which she swam grew smaller and smaller and smaller. She had to keep her legs going all the time until at last, quite worn out with her efforts, she sat still and the water froze about her. But early in the morning a man passing by saw the poor duckling and he broke the ice and carried her to his home. The children wanted to play with her but that made her afraid and she flew into the milk pan and the flour. At which the mother struck at her with a stick and that made her still more afraid. But just then the door was flung open. The poor duckling flew out and dropped half dead upon the snow.

 I will not try to tell you how dreadful that long, cold winter was to the poor duckling. It would make your hearts far too sad to hear.

Then spring came. The sun shone warm, the larks sang as they pierced the sky, and the duckling could flap her weak wings.

Each day her wings grew stronger and soon, without knowing just how it happened, she found herself in a lovely garden where bright flowers blossomed and shed their perfume on the warm air, and a canal ran nearby.

This was fine indeed! And then one day there came three dear white swans and they swam on the canal.

The duckling knew them. Had she not thought of them every day the long winter through? She said sadly, "I will fly to them and tell them how I suffer. They may kill me because I am so very ugly, but I do not care. I would far rather die than be beaten and left to live another winter."

The duckling flew out on the canal and the three swans saw it and came with spread wings.

''Kill me!" cried the poor duckling as she bent her head.

What did she see? She saw herself in the water, and lo! no longer was she a gray ugly duckling, hateful to look upon — she was a swan!

It did not matter if she were born in a duck yard; she had come out of a swan egg. The swans came nearer, and touched her with their beaks. Into the garden came some little children and they threw bread to the swans. The youngest child cried, "There is a new swan!" and all the rest shouted, "Yes, a new one, and it is the sweetest of all! So young! So pretty!" 

She was so happy she did not know what to do; all the old trouble was gone and from her glad heart she cried, ''I never dreamed of so much joy when I was an ugly duckling!"